Shift to a Poaching Strategy When There Are Few Unemployed to Hire

May 21, 2018

Have you seen this startling current job market statistic? For the first time in this century, there are more job openings than unemployed people. And this shortage of unemployed applicants means that you must shift your recruiting strategy from an unemployed/active candidate focus to one that emphasizes poaching currently employed talent.

If you have noticed recently that your firm isn’t getting enough applicants, a primary cause is the startling fact that there are now more job openings (6.6 million) than there are unemployed people (6.4 million) in the U.S.  (Source: U.S. Department of Labor/Washington Post). This exceedingly rare shortage of unemployed potential candidates creates a substantial recruiting problem. Ninety-plus percent of corporate recruiting strategies and 100 percent of small business recruiting strategies are designed primarily to attract these unemployed candidates. So, when there are not enough unemployed to satisfy your recruiting needs, your recruiting strategy must shift its focus to the next large pool of available prospects. Currently, 96.1 percent of the workforce already have a job, so that means they must be drawn away from their current firm.

Understanding Why Recruiting Strategies Designed for The Unemployed Are Ineffective for Poaching Away the Currently Employed

Yes, the statistics are correct. Currently, only 3.9 percent of the workforce is unemployed, while the remaining 96.1 percent already have a job. Begin targeting this much larger population. Unfortunately, your current recruiting strategy that works for unemployed/active candidates will be ineffective for poaching away fully employed people. The stark differences between the recruiting requirements of these two different groups are highlighted below:

  • Attracting applicants — Most of the unemployed feel some degree of urgency. They will seek out almost any job opening and “they will find you.” In contrast, most fully employed people are relatively satisfied, so they aren’t proactive jobseekers. And that means that they are extremely difficult to recruit because they don’t read job postings or branding messages and they may not return recruiter calls. If they somehow do see your job opening, the actual job posting will have to be written up in such a manner that it clearly appears to be superior to their current job. Referrals work for both categories, but they are likely to be the No. 1 most effective approach for finding fully employed talent.
  • Brand matters — Employed potential applicants already have their current job to fall back on. So, before they consider a new firm, it will likely have to have a stronger employer brand than their current firm. And when they are assessing that brand, it means that they are much more likely to check employer comment sites like Glassdoor. They also are likely to conduct Google searches and ask their friends about their perception of the firm before they apply. In contrast, the unemployed are likely to do little research or even to be bothered by anything but the most severe negative comments that they hear.
  • Candidate experience tolerance levels — Because employed people already have a job, they are much less likely to tolerate a recruiting process that is not applicant-friendly. That means that if your application process is time-consuming, the recruiting process is drawn out, and if it doesn’t provide a positive candidate experience or it doesn’t give them the information that covers their job acceptance criteria, either they won’t participate in it at all, or they will drop out from the recruiting process early on. And if your interviewing process requires an employee candidate to take a great deal of time away from their current job, they just won’t be available for multiple interviews.
  • Privacy and security concerns — Employed people don’t want their current boss to know that they’re looking, because that might cause them to lose their job. As a result, they are greatly concerned about the privacy and data protections contained in your recruiting process. So, if you mistakenly check their current manager as a reference without their permission, they will likely post that negative act on Glassdoor. Obviously, unemployed people don’t care as much about the fact that others may learn that they are looking.
  • Harder to sell — because the unemployed have no significant income. Whatever amount of money or quality of a job that you offer them, they will likely accept it. However, fully employed people expect and in many cases demand at least a 5 percent higher rate of pay before they’ll make a shift in companies. Working people are also likely to care about every aspect of the job, so your opportunity will probably have to be superior in most aspects to land them. As a result, the offer turndown rate for the fully employed may literally be up to 10 times higher than that of unemployed candidates.
  • Being fought over — Because retention is currently such a big issue, it is extremely likely that their current boss will fight to keep all currently employed individuals. And that means that even if you get their attention and convince them to apply, the current boss of the fully employed will likely fight and bid to keep them. In direct contrast, the unemployment bureau won’t bid to keep their unemployed, so convincing them to take a new job is significantly easier.
  • Retention issues — If the new hire has been unemployed for a period of time, they are likely to relish job security. So, unless they were seriously misled, the odds of the formerly unemployed quitting are quite small. However, a person who has been previously employed is likely to have much higher expectations. So, if the job turns out even to be a little less exciting than promised, the formerly employed candidate is likely to continue looking immediately.

For any single firm, there is no shortage of talent, provided that they successfully target the abundant employed people who are working across the street at their competitors.

The Next Step: Shifting to a Poaching Strategy

I’ve previously written in extensive detail on how to effectively poach talent away from your competitors and also how to poach diverse talent. But if you need a brief overview of what is required in an effective poaching recruiting strategy, here are the basic components.

  • Drop ethical concerns — Decide up front that there is nothing illegal or unethical about recruiting talent away from your competitors. Remember that firms routinely steal customers from other firms without concern. And like customers, employees are not owned by their current firm.
  • Identifying which firms to target —  target the competitor firms with the best talent. Also, look for firms that are undergoing challenges that may make their employees uncomfortable, because insecure or uncomfortable employees are more likely to seek out better opportunities.
  • Identifying top talent — the best way to find talent at a competitor firm is to ask for referrals from your current employees who have been in the industry for a while. But also ask new hires who recently worked at your target firms to identify the best recruiting targets during onboarding.
  • Branding efforts are the primary attraction method — Employed people don’t read job ads or go to job fairs. So, after referrals, the best way to reach them is through employer branding efforts. That means that your firm and its job features must be positively “talked about” in industry articles, blogs, in chat rooms, and on “best place to work” lists.
  • Superior recruiters are required — You need superior “executive search type” recruiters who know how to approach and sell candidates who have multiple job choices successfully. Unfortunately, many current recruiters are likely to be essentially “application sorters” who won’t be able to add value when you’re approaching the employed.
  • A pipeline approach is best — Employed talent might require a trust relationship with the firm before they even consider applying. The best recruiting approach is a “pipeline approach,” which allows you to identify employed talent well before you need them for a job opening. The pipeline approach also provides you with the opportunity to assess and sell them over a much more extended period of time.
  • A candidate-centric approach — because they already have a job. Once you convince employed candidates to apply, they need to be given white-glove treatment. The entire hiring process must also be “candidate centric,” meaning that it is specifically designed to be as painless as possible and focused on providing the information that covers each of a candidate’s job-acceptance criteria.
  • Speed — Once an employed person begins the hiring process, they may view the speed of the recruiting process as an indication of the overall speed of decision making at the firm. In addition, employed candidates are more desirable; they may not be on the job market very long. Other more agile firms may quickly make them an offer in as little as one day.

Final Thoughts

Right now, already employed applicants are in the power seat. So, until there is a recession, the recruiting power relationship won’t shift back to the firm. However, until that happens, with only 3.9 percent of the population unemployed, firms that want to continue growing have no choice but to shift to a poaching recruiting strategy that considers your competitors to be your recruiting “farm teams.” The business impacts from this strategy are likely to be much more powerful. This is because employed individuals are more likely to be superior performers, they have a low probability of being rusty, and their training is much more likely to be up to date. And as one final added benefit, when you poach talent away from a competitor, your firm gets stronger, while they simultaneously get weaker.


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